There is a phenomenon occurring in high school sports that is presently flying under the radar, but has already had its effect. This phenomenon, that is, the rapid disappearance of three-sport athletes, has been developing over the past several years and, thanks to over-zealous high school and travel coaches, has caused high school programs to suffer dwindling numbers. Although there are no hard statistics on the decline of multi-sport athletes, the anecdotal evidence is unmistakable.
Bob Pawlak, who recently retired as athletic director at Start High School, has been involved in high school athletics for nearly 30 years. During that time he has witnessed a steep decline in athletic participation.
“The travel coaches are filling the kids with dreams of scholarships. Only a few are so lucky. Meanwhile, they lose out on so much,” Pawlak said.
Similarly, Larry Jones, in an interview subsequent to his retirement as athletic director at Sylvania Northview High School, echoed the same sentiments.
“Certain coaches require that the players concentrate on one sport year round. They insist that it is necessary for the player to excel,” Jones said.
“The high school years pass so quickly. Kids should experience as much as they can,” he said.
The debate as to what effect the proliferation of travel programs has had on high school athletic programs will go forever. Some will argue travel programs have allowed individuals exposure they would otherwise never have received, while others will say colleges will find the talented players. What side of the fence one sits on is most likely determined by personal experience. But what cannot be denied is that only about 1 percent of all high school athletes ever receive an athletic scholarship. Given the odds, is limiting participation to one sport worth it?
What has caused this rise in travel sports? Ten or 15 years ago there were virtually no travel programs of any kind. Since then, travel programs in all the major sports have grown geometrically.
One of the causes is undoubtedly the fact that parents see their sons or daughters as potential superstars. This has led to parents planning their vacations and weekends around the athletic activities of their children and the expenditure of hundreds of dollars for team fees and private instructions.
Another cause, however, may be a more subtle one and one that few would even consider. The NCAA, the supposed protector of amateur sports, has organized its schedule dictating the contact periods between athletes and coaches in such a manner as to encourage the growth of travel programs. Even a cursory review reveals that the NCAA’s schedule makes it nearly impossible for volleyball players to play softball because the NCAA prescribed evaluation period for volleyball is in the spring, therefore, athletes seeking volleyball scholarships must play travel volleyball in order to be seen by the college coaches. Football players seeking scholarships must attend the junior camps held by nearly all the major colleges. When do those take place? You guessed it: in the spring, making participation in track or baseball impossible.
Regardless of the what the cause might be, the true losers in this equation are the young men and women who will never have the opportunity to nurture their skills or foster the many friendships that grow out of athletic participation. For most of them, scholarships and pro contracts will never materialize, but, for all of them, the possible lifetime lessons and memories are within their reach.
For more high school sports coverage, visit David Gatwood’s Web site, www.nwoprepsports.com.